With the new members of Tamil Nadu’s legislative assembly having taken their oath yesterday, Christian leaders in the southern Indian state are looking to the future with caution.
Last week, J. Jayalalithaa of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam party was sworn in as state chief minister.
Her party and its allies won 203 seats in the 234-seat legislative assembly, decimating and dethroning their rival the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) party.
Jayalalithaa’s massive win surprised even hard-boiled political analysts, who expected her to win but not by such a large margin.
Jayalalithaa says the vote was in support of her party’s policies, but analysts believe issues such as the corruption scandal surrounding telecom licenses and nepotism turned voters away from the DMK.
As Jayalalithaa settles in to address the key issues that affect Tamil Nadu, Christians hope their issues will also receive some attention.
The Church tried to play a neutral role in the elections.
Church bodies and communities circulated pamphlets detailing the DMK “score sheet,” which contained the DMK's attitude towards Christians. The report card did not favor the DMK.
"This time we chose not to express openly which party we were for. We chose to publish a report card and let people decide who to vote for," Father Xavier Arulraj, head of the Legal Cell of Madras-Mylapore archdiocese, said.
After Jayalalithaa came to power, one bishop remarked at a recent meeting that Christians would have to be wary of her.
He has a reason. In 2002, she enacted an anti-conversion law (which she later withdrew) and looked the other way when her supporters portrayed her in Mother Mary’s image.
Father James Victor of Tuticorin, a key member of a socio-political movement, says Christians went with the prevailing mood and voted against the DMK. “But we will need to watch how Jayalalithaa runs her government."
The government’s first moves have pleased Church people working with the coastal fishing communities in southern Tamil Nadu where Catholics dominate.
The new chief minister kept her poll promise to increase an allowance for fisher people during the 45-day seasonal ban on deep-sea fishing.
"This is good news. It has been one of our demands," Father A. Kildos, who works among fisher people in the southernmost district of Kanniyakumari, said.
There are more issues that the Church would like the new government to address. Key will be policies that affect schools that it runs with government aid.
Much will depend on how the Church presents these issues to Jayalalithaa.
"It is clear to political parties that Christians will demonstrate their feelings when the time comes. They have done it in this election," Father Arulraj said.
Vincent D'Souza is a journalist based in Tamil Nadu
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